As Louis Pasteur once famously said, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” To be an innovative entrepreneur, you want to foster creativity in your daily life so that your mind is ready when opportunity arises.
“Creative ideas often come from unusual combinations,” explains Steven Smith, professor of cognitive psychology at Texas A&M University. “The best solution is not going to be the thing everyone thinks of. It’s going to be something unusual.”
These unusual combinations, called “remote associations,” are related ideas that may seem unrelated at first glance. They are the essence of creative thinking.
To cultivate creativity, you want to increase your chances of stumbling on an unexpected link. Here are four strategies you can use in your everyday life that will train your mind to be more creative in business:
1. Shake up your routine. To expand your creative horizons, surround yourself with a broad range of perspectives and experiences. A diverse workplace is helpful, but it isn’t enough. Outside work, seek variety in what you eat, where you hang out, the types of art you look at, the places you travel, or the books you read.
“Diversity introduces all kinds of new stimuli,” Smith says. “It opens you up to a number of new possibilities.” You are more likely to find an unusual solution when you have more options at your fingertips.
2. Cast a wide net for feedback. We often discuss important ideas with the same inner circle of colleagues, but in doing that we can miss the obvious answers. “Someone less expert may notice invisible assumptions right away,” Smith says. They may help you see a problem or idea in a new light.
Find intelligent people with little knowledge of your business and talk through whatever you’re working on now. You may be surprised by the solutions they help you discover.
3. Let go of rigid rules. Like the queen in Alice in Wonderland who thinks of impossible things for half an hour each day, you want to train your mind to be more open. Practice letting your mind wander and come up with as many ideas as you can, however absurd they may seem. You can even be silly or funny. “Humor helps loosen up your constraints,” Smith explains.
Relaxing your standards while you generate ideas increases your openness and boosts creativity. “If you think of 99 stupid, impossible ideas and one that works, then that was time well spent,” Smith says.
4. Observe the world around you. “When you get wrapped up in your own head, creative ideas can slide under your nose,” Smith says. The most creative people are always on the lookout for interesting things, even if they don’t apply to whatever they’re working on now, he adds.
Keep a notebook or a computer folder full of interesting ideas, articles, images, or even passing thoughts. They will likely come in handy at a moment you least expect.